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Posted by on Jun 12, 2020 in TellMeWhy |

What Is an Icebreaker?

What Is an Icebreaker?

Icebreaker is a ship which is specially shaped and strengthened so that it can cut through ice-fields which would stop or crush an ordinary vessel. Although the term usually refers to ice-breaking ships, it may also refer to smaller vessels (e.g., icebreaking boats that were used on the canals of Great Britain in the days of commercial carrying).

Icebreaker ships are designed to break even thickest of the ice and make some of the most inhospitable paths accessible to the world, navigating through the ice-covered waters, especially in the Polar Regions. The significant features that make the ice-breakers different from other vessels are its strengthened hull to resist ice waters, a specially designed ice-clearing shape to make a path forward and extreme power to navigate through sea ice.

For a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most normal ships lack: a strengthened hull, an ice-clearing shape, and the power to push through ice-covered waters. To pass through ice-covered water, an icebreaker uses its great momentum and power to drive its bow up onto the ice, breaking the ice under the immense weight of the ship.

Because a buildup of broken ice in front of a ship can slow it down much more than the breaking of the ice itself, the speed of the ship is increased by having a specially designed hull to direct the broken ice around or under the vessel. The largest such ship is the 134 m (440 ft) Russian Lenin, which can travel at 33 km/h (approximately 20 mph) – she was also the world’s first nuclear-powered ship.

How does an icebreaker work?

The working of icebreaker ships lies in their design that is modified to suit their special purpose.  Having a mammoth structure, with the advantage of weight, size, and power, the icebreakers can glide smoothly over even 3-meter thick ice and crush it making a path for other ships to tread. This makes them exceptionally useful piece of machinery in frozen regions of Arctic and Russia. Of course, calling them a ‘piece of machinery’ would be a farce but on the fair side, they can be reasonably called quite small as compared to the ships and tankers that carry out the final job of relaying the material back and forth a spot.

Getting back to how does an icebreaker ship works, it is because of their hull design. With the rounded shape bow unlike other vessels, the smoother portion of an icebreaker ship allows it to glide more easily over the thick ice coat, reducing the opposing forces greatly. As the ship glides over the ice, its weight comes down on the ice sheet, crushing it.

Smooth hull design helps push this ice out of the ship’s way, preventing it from entering ship’s parts and causing damage. The double hull structure ensures the integrity of the hull even under harshest conditions. The outer hull is reinforced with additional materials and hull polymer paints that provide it more strength and reduces damage due to friction. So the ship moves forward, the ice is shoved aside and there is a path for other ships to move on to.

Content for this question contributed by Bill Hickman, resident of Portsmouth, Commonwealth of Virginia, USA